Interview with Ms Mary Linh, ASC, Salesian Cooperators, Dalat
Dalat, Vietnam, 7 March 2019 -- What makes you happy as Salesian Cooperator?
15 years ago, I desired to in my free time to mingle with those of my age at our Salesian Parish. Yet, it was only a dream since family financial business did not allow me to do that. Then, three years ago, a female cooperator saw me frequently in the Church and smiling to anyone who greeted me.
She knew my family background very well. She made some suggestion for me to join the Salesian Cooperator Association. I was very happy to know a group that I can associate with even though I have not heard about the group. In fact, the financial situation of my family did not allow me much time. I was one of the main bread-winners for the family and still supporting my younger siblings in their school. One year passed, and I did not reply to the proposal. Again, that Cooperator asked me. My reply was similar to that of earlier time: “I need to arrange my time.” In spite of my deep willingness to join, yet, it took one more year when it seemed to be the last time the same Cooperator would make her invitation. I decided to join her for the meeting to see what group it was.
The Salesian delegate gave a talk on Don Bosco and I knew very little about him. I just listened. At the end of the meeting, the chair of the center appealed for the donation of each member for the poor students of a nearby high school. I felt a little uncomfortable since my intention wa to join a group for activities and not for financial donations. I barely made ends meet. Monthly membership fee could take away a part of my contribution to the family budget. In spite of adverse feelings, I decided to join the group with many meeting and study sessions. My parents seemed unhappy because of it meant my time and contribution to the family diminished. Yet, I took regular part in the meetings of the group. Sincerely speaking, at that moment I did not understand much about the vocation of Salesian cooperators. Probably, I needed someone to accompany me better for Salesian spirituality and mission.
A special day happened as I was assigned to be part of the team which would welcome the Rector Major who visited Vietnam on the 23rd of February, 2017. I was really excited to see Fr Angel Artime and moved by his talk to the Salesian Family of the local area. He stressed the life of visible witness of the Salesian Family members so that everyone felt welcome. He encouraged the Salesian family members to model their life after Don Bosco, to open their heart to welcome all, in particular, the poor kids who were the primary target group to be served and loved.
As a private English teacher, I was honoured to take part in the Salesian Cooperators’ Congress of EAO 2017 in Tokyo, Japan. I listened carefully to the speeches, experience sharing among people from 14 Salesian provinces. I also learned about Salesian Cooperator’s vocation from the Vietnamese Provincial’s talk. The video message of the Rector Major made a strong impression on my mind and heart. I seemed to be transformed by these days. I understand better the needs of the young of today, the function role and benefits of the Salesian accompaniment. Day by day, I am more and more introduced to the Salesian Family and then, finally, I discovered my true lay vocation as a Salesian cooperator. I could play a part in the divine plan of salvation for the poor youth as a member of the Salesian Family founded by Don Bosco himself.
What makes you grow in your Salesian Cooperator vocation and mission?
To grow in my Salesian Vocation, I need the accompaniment, guidance, motivation and of course, solid formation from the Salesians. I pray that my financial status may be more stable so that I can have more time for self-study and assimilation of The Guidelines and Indications for the Formation of the Salesian Cooperators as a process of my personal formation.
Yet, the book is not easy to master. It is rather academic for me as a lay woman who is busy in the world.
What are the major challenges in the growth of your vocation?
Currently, beside my heavy occupation as a private tutor/teacher, I am accompanying a hostel of 50 girl college students and teaching English to 30 Salesian aspirants. It is really challenging to fulfill various roles at once.
As a teacher, I need to update myself continuously to cope with quick changes in education methods and knowledge. Otherwise, I will be left behind and cannot survive in my teaching profession.
As a Salesian Cooperator, the challenge to find sufficient time to assimilate the content of The Guidelines and Indications for the Formation of the Salesian Cooperators. I have not yet finished the reading of the whole text. In it, there are many paragraphs and sections which are really difficult for me to understand deeply. This is challenging me and also all the other members of my local Centre. For example, as the text speaks about Human Dimension: “The Salesian Cooperator should “know” the world of the youth and their issues. I had some not quite good experience in accompanying the girls in the above-mentioned hostel. They had their problems and stresses. I listened to their negative experiences and tried to figure out the meaning behind their expressions. I myself have not had sufficient experiences in my student life, how can I accompany and guide them? In addition, I do not have much time with them. When I came back, some of them decided to leave the hostel at my regret.
It is not only I who have that experience. Many Salesian Cooperators have the same assessment.
Another challenge comes from the age of the group. The majority of the members are in late mid-life. It is not easy to invite young adult people to join a group of late mid-lifers. Understandably, the young are still struggling to have a more stable life to have time for the group meetings. Besides, it seemed to me that the personal accompaniment is lacking if they approach the more experienced members or the Salesians themselves. Finally, the generation gap causes some difficulties in idea brainstorming, team-work skills to get consensus.
How do you prepare yourself as formator?
I have never thought of becoming a formator. Firstly, I am the youngest of our Center - Group. There are more experienced members. They are more mature and have had long time as Salesian Cooperators. They also very devout, stable in life with leadership competence.
Secondly, to be a formator needs a lot of qualities as The Guidelines and Indications for the Formation of the Salesian Cooperators points out. I am challenged to form myself in such a way that I am equipped with these qualities. It will take me years and years to form myself in the line.
Thirdly, I pray that God will help me so that I will be more secure in financial status to devote myself for learning better Salesian Cooperator’s Vocation and Mission by myself and with the assistance of others.
What exchange among the EAO Salesian Cooperators do you dream about?
I dream about:
- How the Salesian Cooperators work together.
- How to invite younger prospective members to join the SC Association?
- How the self-formation be processed.
What do you expect from the 2019 EAO Formators Workshop in Cambodia?
I expect the get the answers for the questions raised above.
I expect to maser the formation approach.
I expect the coordination of all the SC’s in the world through social communication and website to support one another in the mission.
How do you put into practice the four pillars of formation: Know? – Know how to do? – Know how to be? – Know how to live in communion?
The four pillars of Formation of the Salesian Cooperators are new for me. Yet, they seem to be very impressive, useful, practical and very good. They are somehow the compass which needs to be possessed by all SC in their journey of formation, mission. I need to implement these guidelines in my life.